Phyllis Curtin at NATS of Virginia

      On March 2nd and 3rd, 2005 at George Mason University, over 360 student singers auditioned and about 60 teachers gathered for the Virginia Division of the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition. There are 27 categories, from beginning high school through graduate and continuing education levels. Each category has one winner and any student who receives a score of 25 or above receives "Honors" and a chance to compete at the Regional level. The top winner from each category is presented in an Honors Recital .

      The Friday evening banquet honored guest clinician Phyllis Curtin and celebrated her major contribution to singing and teaching throughout her long career. Patricia Miller, GMU voice department head, planned this wonderful evening. which included the school's student string quartet and their fine choral ensemble directed by Stan Engelbretson. Opening remarks were followed by a Round Table Discussion with Ms.Curtin which garnered many questions about teaching, singing, career development and vocal longevity. One question by Laura Mann was directed to the idea of how to keep a career going. Ms. Curtin stressed versatility and the capability of singing in many styles and genres, i.e. opera, oratorio, lieder and contemporary music. She also stressed the need to be a quick study.

      At Saturday's Master Class Ms. Curtin was obviously very impressed with the preparation and quality of our Virginia singers. Their responsiveness to her instruction was evident . For two of the singers she simply asked the singer to repeat the song, noting in undiva-like honesty, that it's always better the second time anyway. Her instructions were general and broad, making the overall presentation very effective. She pointed out strengths and weaknesses of each student in a gentle, encouraging and honest way .

      The Hampton Roads area was well represented with winners and honors students from Christopher Newport, Hampton University, Norfolk State and Old Dominion University and many private studios.

      The NATS organization has been a major force in my development as a voice teacher. Even with a good education (MS Juilliard), professional experience and having studied with some of the very best voice teachers of the 20 Century (Ellen Faull, Eleanor Steber and Estelle Liebling), my many years of attending NATS events has honed my listening skills and greatly enhanced my ability to articulate the difficult concepts involved in vocal technique. Listening year after year to different levels of singing, different types of voices with there many problems and trying to think of how to make that sound better has been an education in itself. Listening to Master Classes by experienced, knowledgeable singer/teachers always brings new ideas to my studio along with the excitement of seeing my students grow with the challenge of healthy competition. Articles in the NATS Journal have also been of immeasurable value to my vocal instruction. I would encourage any voice teacher interested in growing in the knowledge and understanding of how the voice works, not to mention style, musicianship and everything else in the singing world to become and active member of NATS

Karen Hoy, President, National Association of Teachers of Singing, Virginia Division.


Congratulations to Local NATS Winners and Honorees

The Academy of Music
Karen Hoy, teacher of:
John Gorman, Catagory 24 Winner
Ann Scott, Cat. 25 A Winner

Christopher Newport University
Scott Root, teacher of:
Steven Martinez, Cat. 10 Honors

Hampton University
Lorraine Bell, teacher of:
Marques Garrett, Cat. 14 Honors
Shelia J. Maye, teacher of:
Justin Merrick Cat. 12 Honors

Norfolk State University
Patricia Saunders Nixon, teacher of:
Yunessea Battle, Cat. 11 C Honors; Karen Owens, Cat. 11 C Honors

Old Dominion University
Joanne Sims, teacher of:
Martin Kerr, Cat. 12 Honors
Walter Swan, teacher of:
Erin Hannon, Cat. 13 B Winner
Agnes Mobley-Wynne, teacher of:
Lindsey Kowalik, Cat. 15 A Honors

Wiliam and Mary
Gary L. Green, teacher of:
Ginger Saunders, Cat. 21 B Winner; Brian Zane, Cat. 22 Winner

Independent Studios
Mary Matthews Garrett, teacher of:
Kristin Gavaza, Cat. 5 Winner
Joana' Matthews, Cat. 5 Honors
Leanna Caplan, Cat. 7B Honors and Cat. 19 A Winner
Sabrina Bradley, Cat. 19 B Honors

Ellen Fisher Petko, teacher of:
Adam Clemence, Cat. 6 Honors

Patricia Ricciarelli, teacher of:
Brianna Shields, Cat. 5 Honors

      Local Winners of the Mid Atlantic Regional NATS Competition at University of South Carolina-Columbia in April covering Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C. (Many of the Virginia winners and honorees did not attend the Regional Competition, though they were qualified to do so.)

Karen Owens, 3rd place Cat. 11A (Patricia Saunders Nixon)
John Gorman, 1st place - Cat. #24 (Karen Hoy)
Ann Scott, Tie for 1st place, Cat. #25 (Karen Hoy & Anna Gabrieli)


Karen Hoy Reports from NATS National Conference

      Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 30th to July 4th, 2006. As a long time member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), I have attended many state and regional workshops and conferences and so I was very curious to see what happens on the national level. There, I found a whirlwind of activities - every moment of the day and night could be filled, often with three or four choices. Art Song was the main focus of the conference and since it's my own area of special interest, I was eager to hear new songs and get new ideas on recital presentation.

      Soprano Elizabeth Croy and pianist Julie Gosswiller, both from Montana State University, presented a very creative workshop on the use of Power Point in recital. Practical ideas such as translations and visuals which related to the song were very helpful. Before presenting a recital about food and recipes they prepared photos of themselves in action in the kitchen complete with aprons, bandanas, floury faces and sticky fingers. It brought you into the everyday lives of these wonderful performers and opened a flood gate of ideas for the use of Power Point. An especially fun song was a setting on a recipe of Emily Dickinson. It contained spirits and our singer stole a little nip during the postlude!

      For many years I have read Sharon Mabry's articles in the NATS Journal. It was a delight to hear this most polished, confident and beautiful singer share her experience with contemporary music. For her presentation there was no Power Point or staging necessary. The self-assuredness of her compelling personality drew you like a magnet. Here is a performer who can "stand and sing" and hold your attention. Ms. Mabry handed out sheet music of commonly used extended vocal techniques which looked formidable on the page. Then she sang for us demonstrating that they are within our reach. She emphasized understanding the effect the composer wanted to achieve rather than trying to master an exact musical representation of what was on the page. She also told us that these techniques are not harmful for the voice but enhance agility and flexibility in singing. "You'll be a better Brahms and Fauré singer after experimenting with these techniques."

      Another very effective class was "Teaching Men to Sing: Resonance Strategies for the Male Singer" by Paul Kiesgen. With examples of famous singers, Dr. Kiesgen shared many ideas on how to achieve good resonance rich with chiaroscuro. He emphasized the need to teach the singer and not the technique.

      Paul Sperry, one of today's foremost interpreters of American Song, was the keynote speaker and gave a session on lesser known American songs. Mr. Sperry came across as a genuine person with a sincere, deep love of American songs and singers. He says that we do things backwards in our vocal programs - we start with Italian songs. What we really want our students to do is to sing with understanding and expression. The best place to start is with our own American song literature.

      Voice teachers spend most of the lesson on how to sing and very little time on the "what" or "why" of singing. Mr. Sperry thinks that technique must be integrated through musicianship, style and, most importantly, the words. Instrumentalists work with one teacher throughout their educational years while singers work with two, a voice teacher and a coach. This separation of ideas creates a polarization of goals which confuses the singer into thinking you that you can sing accurately or with expressiveness but not both. The reality is that they should enhance one another. I couldn't agree more. A wonderful example of this, although not in art song, was a recent production of La Fille du Regiment presented by the Todi Festival this summer in Portsmouth Virginia. The soprano, Lynette Tapia (Maria), used the ornaments and melismatic passages to express the drama making them an essential part of the action and not just vocal effect.

      Mr. Sperry shared many of his ideas and experiences in programming and emphasized the need to know lots of repertoire in order to put together interesting thematic programs. He encouraged creativity and getting out of the traditional recital box by not wearing formal dress and talking and bonding with the audience. He also emphasized the need to have a lot of variety in each section - all slow, sad songs and a fast one at the end definitely won't do it. He also recommended having translations available but turning down the lights so the audience must look at you. Mr. Sperry named many of his favorite composers. Most are well known already but one is of special interest, Norfolk's own Adolphus Hailstork. High praise went to Dolph's Who is Sylvia - he called it a "fabulous song". Interestingly, he hates the name "Art Song" thinking most people find it intimidating. In other languages the words are easier to take: lied, melody and romanza without any artsy words in front. If he comes up with a new name I'll start using it tomorrow.

      Another encouraging offshoot of the Q&A session was to hear about all the vocal music and art song societies cropping up all over the country. There must be nearly 30 new organizations dedicated to the study and performance of art song and vocal music. Most emphasize exciting new ways with themes, staging and audience engagement to present interesting programs.

      The world class and endlessly innovative soprano Dawn Upshaw will present a recital and master class at the next national conference, June 27th through July 1, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee. This should be an event not to miss and we have a long time to prepare.

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